Gregg Allman was a singer, songwriter, keyboard player, husband, father, brother, and a son, but how did a little boy from Tennessee grow to be one of the most influential figures in rock? Who was the man who broke into Capricorn Sound Studios in the middle of the night to record his signature track “Midnight Rider,” which speaks to and exemplifies his restless nature? A total of 11 bouts in rehab, seven marriages, five children, and countless fans have been part of the 69 years Allman spent on this earth, but more than anything, his time here was about the music and it is for that he will be forever remembered.
Births and Deaths
Born in Nashville, Tennessee a year after his older brother Duane, Gregg Allman entered the world on December 8, 1947. The Allman family lived in Vanleer, Tennesse until in 1949 Army Lieutenant Willis Allman, the boy’s father, was shot and killed by a hitchhiker to whom he had offered a lift. Subsequently, Gregg and Duane’s mother, Geraldine, moved the family to Nashville where she enrolled in a college course to become an accountant.
Forced to live on-campus, Geraldine had to send her boys to board at nearby Castle Heights Military Academy to keep them out of the state orphanage.
The Discovery of Music
Gregg felt bored and depressed at school and threw himself into his studies. Developing an interest in medicine, Allman hoped to become a dentist, but that was before he became interested in music.
After returning to Nashville upon their mother’s graduation, the family moved to Daytona Beach Florida in 1959. It was shortly afterward in 1960 that the boys attended a concert featuring Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding, BB King, and Patti LaBelle, one of the events that Allman credits with sparking his love of music. The other was spending time with Jimmy Banes. Banes was a mentally disabled neighbor of his grandmother in Nashville and was the person who introduced Gregg Allman to the guitar.
The First Bands and The Allman Joys
Gregg bought his first guitar, a Silvertone, after saving money from his paper route and made his first public appearance in the Y-Teens before returning to Castle Hill Academy where he and his brother formed a band called The Misfits.
Allman quit the academy and returned to Daytona Beach where he and Duane created the Shufflers in 1963. Gregg graduated from Sea Breeze High School but had forgotten about becoming a dentist. He said, “Between the women and the music, school wasn’t a priority anymore.” They formed their first real band called The Escorts who evolved into the Allman Joys. The Allman Joys hit the road and were booked solidly for weeks at a time. During this tour, Gregg got his first Vox keyboard and taught himself to play.
Their First Big Record Was a Flop in His Eyes
Bill McEuen, a music act manager, gave the group the money to move to LA and they recorded their first album, a self-titled record Hourglass. Gregg felt they were selling out but they needed the money, and he said of this album, “The music had no life to it—it was poppy, preprogrammed [expletive].” He didn’t have a much higher opinion of their second album, and the record company executives did not like the demos they were recording.
The band returned to Florida, but Gregg stayed behind. They mocked him as too scared to leave LA, but he had promised rights for a solo album to the record company after Duane had upset them and “told off” several executives.
Duane was forming a band in Jacksonville, Florida and Gregg returned to join them in March 1969. Although they were very nearly called Beelzebub, this was the birth of the legendary Allman Brothers Band.
A groundbreaking mix of southern rock, blues, jazz, and country music, the band’s first two records didn’t do that well, but their live album At Fillmore East is considered one of the best live albums ever recorded. It was their big breakthrough. An entire side of Fillmore East was filled with their famous song “Whipping Post” which Gregg Allman scribbled the words to on an ironing board when inspiration for the song struck, and he was unable to find a piece of paper. “We realized that the audience was a big part of what we did, which couldn’t be duplicated in a studio. A lightbulb finally went off; we needed to make a live album,” said Allman.
Drugs, Drugs, and More Drugs
The downside to this sudden success was the fact that the entire band and most of their entourage were now using copious amounts of drugs. Gregg, along with everyone else, agreed to give up heroin, but cocaine was still a problem, and it was cocaine that was at the center of the final conversation Gregg had with Duane. Gregg gave Duane some money to go and buy some cocaine, and when the drug didn’t appear, he let himself into Duane’s house, located the stash of drugs, “poured out about half a gram and snorted it up.”
Duane noticed and asked Gregg about it.“That last thing I ever said to my brother was an [expletive] lie, man,” said Gregg. “‘No, I did not,’ I told him.'” Duane apologized, and said, “I sure do love ya, bay brah.” It was their last conversation.
Death Induces a Spiral
The next day, on October 29, 1971, Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle crash. Gregg has said he has since “thought of that lie every day of my life, and I just keep re-crucifying myself for it. I know that’s not what he would want – well, not for long anyway. I know he lied to me about the blow in the first place. But the thing is, I never got the chance to tell him the truth.”
The band stayed together but descended into a drug-fueled downward spiral. Allman said in his autobiography that the band bought a jet plane and, “The first time we walked onto the plane, ‘Welcome Allman Brothers’ was spelled out in cocaine on the bar.”
One of the band’s security staff and Gregg’s personal drug dealer, Scooter Herring, was arrested for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and in the trial that followed, Allman was painted as an informant. Gregg received death threats, and his fellow band members turned their backs on him.
“They hid me out with four FBI guys assigned to me for protection,” Allman says. “I wasn’t allowed to read anything, or watch TV, but they did give me a bottle of whiskey every night.” Herring only served 18 months out the 75-year sentence, but the rest of the band still refused to talk to Gregg and the band split in 1976.
A Tempestuous Marriage
In June 1975, Allman married Cher, who had only divorced Sonny three days before. Cher filed for divorce nine days later citing Allman’s drinking and heroin use. ”He was so high he didn’t even understand me,” she said of the time. She called to tell him it was over, but Allman dried out and they reconciled.
On the verge of divorce a second time, Cher discovered she was pregnant and the couple stayed together. Allman’s son Elijah Blue was born in 1976. Cher and Allman recorded an album together but it was a flop, and they eventually divorced in 1978 with Gregg returning to live with his mother in Daytona Beach.
A Halfhearted Reunion
Gregg and the other Allman Brothers Band members reunited in 1978, but never really achieved the success they had previously enjoyed. The music from the reformed group was far from the original sound, and they split again in 1982 before what was left of the band’s image was trashed beyond repair.
“It was like a whole different band made those records,” said Gregg in a later interview. “In truth, though, I was just too drunk most of the time to care one way or the other.” Following the split, Allman lived with friends in Florida and descended into more severe alcohol abuse, consuming a fifth of vodka every day.
A Surprise Hit
Photo credit: Ginny Winn/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
During this period, Allman spent five days in jail and was fined $1,000 as the result of a DUI and felt “there’s that fear of everybody forgetting about you.” After a few reunions with the Allman Brothers Band, Gregg recorded a solo album I’m No Angel, and the title track became a surprise hit, but his alcohol abuse was still a huge issue.
Allman moved to LA where he married Danielle Galliano because he felt that one day he would be too “old and ugly” to get married. “Our marriage started off with a bang,” he said, which may be an understatement as what actually happened was he nearly died of a drug overdose.
Returning to His Roots
1989 was the 20th anniversary of the Allman Brothers Band’s founding, and they reformed for a summer tour. Classic rock stations made the Allman Brothers Band a regular sound again, and from 1990 onward, they released three more albums that were widespread commercial successes.
“We had to build a fan base all over again, but as word of mouth spread about how good the music was, more and more people took notice. It felt great, man, and that really helped the music,” said Allman. However, alcohol was still a problem, and when the Allman Brothers Band were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Gregg Allman was so drunk he was unable to get through his speech.
Embarrassment Leads to Success
Seeing himself on TV, Allman finally decided to get clean and dry once and for all. Allman said that he looked at his alcohol and drug use and asked himself: “Did I get any positive anything out of all that? And you’ve got to admit to yourself, no, I didn’t. You can see what happened and that by the grace of God, you finally quit before it killed you.”
This was Allman’s eleventh attempt at rehabilitation, and this time he was successful. Gregg Allman remained clean and sober from this time in 1995 until 2011 when he became addicted to prescription drugs.
A Return to Form
In 2000, Allman bought five acres of land in Richmond Hill, Georgia, moving there and using it as his home base while the Allman Brothers Band continued to tour. The final studio album by the band, Hittin The Note was one of Allman’s favorite albums since the early days, and the band toured successfully through the 2000s.
When the band celebrated their 40th anniversary, they played a successful run at the Beacon Theatre about which Allman said: “That was the most fun I’ve ever had in that building.” This performance is considered a career highlight by the band.
Health Problems Begin
In 2007, Allman was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, which he said he must have caught from a dirty tattoo needle. The following year, three tumors were discovered on his liver, and he was placed on the transplant waiting list. In 2010, a donor was found, and he underwent a successful liver transplant at the age of 63.
During this period, Allman made a solo album titled Low Country Blues, but it remained under wraps through his illness. Gregg said of this: “When things got real bad, real painful, I would just think about this record, and it was kind of a life support system.”
A Tour Cut Short
The most successfully charting album ever for Allman, he embarked on a Europen tour to promote Low Country Blues but had to end the promotional tour when he was diagnosed with a respiratory infection. This infection led to lung surgery in 2011 and as a consequence, Allman became addicted to prescription drugs which led to another stint in rehab in 2012.
The same year, Allman released his autobiography My Cross to Bear which he said was a kind of therapy for him to write. It was also the final year for the Allman Brothers Band which split for good in 2012.
The Final Years
Allman’s final years were not quiet; he remained a rocker to the end. Gregg Allman Live: Back to Macon, GA was recorded and released in 2015, and in 2016 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Mercer University, which was presented to him by former President Jimmy Carter.
Despite a wish to keep playing music until the very end, Allman performed his last concert in October 2016. He kept the reasons secret, but afterward, it was discovered he was suffering from atrial fibrillation and that his liver cancer had returned. He switched to a vegan, gluten-free diet in an attempt to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
A Life Summed Up
Allman began resting at home on his doctor’s orders and on May 27, 2017, at the age of 69, he died at his home in Savannah Georgia as a result of the complications of liver cancer.
In his autobiography, Allman said: “Music is my life’s blood. I love music, I love to play good music, and I love to play music for people who appreciate it. And when it’s all said and done, I’ll go to my grave, and my brother will greet me, saying, ‘Nice work, little brother—you did all right.’ I must have said this a million times, but if I died today, I have had me a blast.”
His Non-Musical Legacy
Allman left behind five children, six ex-wives, and a widow. Allman’s seventh and final marriage began in 2012 when at the age of 64, he got engaged to 24-year-old Shannon. When asked how she felt about becoming Allman’s seventh wife, Gregg interrupted and said: “She’s becoming wife number one. I don’t have a wife; I haven’t had one for years.”
Shannon would remain Allman’s wife until his death. His children are:
- Son Michael Sean Allman, born in 1966 during a relationship with former waitress Mary Lynn Green
- Son Devon Allman, born in 1972 during his marriage to Shelly Kay Jefts
- Son Elijah Blue Allman, born in 1976 during his marriage to Cher
- Daughter Delilah Island Allman, born in 1980 during his marriage to Julie Bindas
- Daughter Layla Brooklyn Allman, born in 1993 during a relationship with radio journalist Shelby Blackburn
Coming up: how Gregg Allman avoided serving in the Vietnam War.
The Final Reunion
Gregg Allman was laid to rest on June 3, 2017, after a private service in Snow’s Memorial Chapel in Macon, Georgia. Before his health took a sudden turn for the worse, Allman had been scheduled to play at the Macon Opera House that night.
In line with Allman’s requests, mourners were asked to wear jeans and nothing more formal than a sports coat; suits were prohibited. In one, final reunion of the Allman Brothers Band, Gregg Allman’s final resting place was in the same cemetery as his brother Duane and the original Allman Brothers Band bassist Berry Oakley, who had died just a year after Duane.
How Gregg Allman Avoided Serving In Vietnam
Photo credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
In 1965, Gregg and Duane were traveling the south playing gigs with their band the Allman Joys. Gregg was 18 years old and eligible to be drafted into the Vietnam War. Duane (exempt due to being the oldest son in a family without a father) came up with a way around that: shoot Gregg in the foot.
Here’s how it happened, as reported by Garden and Gun: “After more berating by Duane, Gregg slammed down two more shots of whiskey, made a quick phone call, and came back outside with his Saturday night special handgun. In the distance, a siren wailed. Then, BAM! Gregg had done it. In a remarkable moment of lucidity, he had called the ambulance before he pulled the trigger. The next day, he hobbled into the Army recruitment office and got his medical exemption. The Allman Brothers Band was born.”
Loving Words From Ex-Wife Cher
Photo credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
After Gregg Allman and Cher split, she started dating KISS frontman Gene Simmons. Even so, she had loving words for her ex. In a 1978 interview with People, Cher said: “nobody ever made me feel as happy as Gregory did. God, he’s wonderful. I don’t understand why he can’t see it. He’s the kindest, most gentle, loving husband and father. But then, he forgets and everything goes to [expletive].”
She attended Allman’s 2017 funeral in Macon, Georgia. Above, the couple is pictured in the backyard of their Beverly Hills home in 1977.
One Of The Greatest Singers Of All Time
Photo credit: Richard E. Aaron/Redferns
Rolling Stone maintains a list of the top 100 singers in history. Allman is included on the list, coming in at #70. Singer Sherly Crow was interviewed about Allman in the piece. She said: “Even in his earliest recordings, he sounded like he’d already lived a thousand lifetimes.”
Other iconic musicians on Rolling Stone‘s list include John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Thom York, Freddie Mercury, Björk, and Lou Reed.
Coming up: find out how you can tour one of Allman’s former homes.
There Were Many, Many Women In Allman’s Life
Photo credit: Patrick Partington/Getty Images
Besides the seven times that Gregg Allman married, there were many other women in his life. In his memoir My Cross to Bear, he talked at length about his experiences with groupies in the 1960s and 1970s.
“I would have women in four or five different rooms. Mind you, I wouldn’t lie to anybody; I’d just say, ‘I’ll be right back,’” he wrote. Each member of the band was required to keep a list of the age of consent in each state they visited while touring. Above is a photo of Allman and fourth wife Julie Bindas.
Elijah Blue Allman Opens Up
Photo credit: Ron Davis/Getty Images
Gregg Allman’s son with Cher, Elijah Blue Allman, is also a musician and an artist. In 2014 he opened up to ET in a candid interview about his life and what it was like to grow up with famous parents.
Allman said, “you know there were a lot of big parties and there was an era for that. I mean like when I was a little kid like in the 80s there was a lot of that, you know. I mean I remember Andy Warhol coming over to the house and things like that, I didn’t appreciate what that was at that time.”
Above, Allman and mom Cher are seen at the 1994 Fire and Ice Ball.
Another Generation Of Substance Abuse
Photo credit: Theo Wargo/WireImage
Performing under the stage name P. Exeter Blue, Elijah Allman plays guitar and sings for the band Deadsy. He has been open about his own struggles with substance abuse, beginning hard drugs when he was young.
“I started with drugs around the same time that we all did, around 11. I mean, it’s just what you did, it’s just what everybody did,” he told US Weekly. Allman continued, “I [was] just looking to escape all the things in my past, and that’s when you turn to those kind of drugs, you know, heroin and opiates. [Heroin] kind of saved me…If I didn’t have that at that point, I don’t know what I would have done…You may jump off a bridge. If you can just go through that time period and live through it and then get help…”
Music Runs In The Allman Family
Photo credit: Rick Diamond/GABB14/Getty Images for Blackbird Productions
Gregg Allman passed his immense musical talent on to his children. Son Devon Allman, from Gregg’s marriage to Shelley Kay Jefts) is also a musician. He formed and fronts the band Honeytribe and plays with many other bands including guest appearances with his father and The Allman Brothers Band.
Above, father and son are pictured together in Atlanta at a tribute concert called All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs & Voice of Gregg Allman in 2014.
Devon Allman Said Derek And The Dominoes Were His Greatest Influence
Photo credit: Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Despite clearly inheriting his father’s talent, Devon says that his dad’s music was not as big an influence on his style as you might guess. In fact, Devon went out of his way to try many different musical styles when he was younger.
Devon once cited Layla by Derek and the Dominoes as being his biggest inspiration. “Although it’s not straight blues, it’s obviously dripping with soulful blues guitar. Layla has always appealed to me because you can really really ‘feel’ what Clapton was going through,” he said. “Front to back, one of the few records that can bring me to tears if I let it.” Uncle Duane played slide guitar on some of those songs.
Fans Can Tour One Of Allman’s Former Homes
Photo credit: The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House
“The Big House” in Macon, Georgia, was the home of The Allman Brothers and their various friends and groupies during the early 1970s. It’s now a museum and open to the public for tours.
Located at 2321 Vineville Avenue, the entire house rented for $225 a month during the time the Allmans resided there. The museum’s website states that “The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House guarantees that the dreams, music, and legacy created so long ago by the band will live on.”
Burn All The Confederate Flags!
Image credit: Ebet Roberts/Redferns
It might be surprising to some that there is still a debate over the Confederate flag being displayed publicly, but the discussion is still going on in many parts of the south.
In a 2015 interview with radio.com, Gregg Allman weighed in on the issue. “Well, I was taught how to play music by these very, very kind older black men. My best friend in the world is a black man. If people are gonna look at that flag and think of it as representing slavery, then I say burn every one of them.” Pictured above: Allman, Willie Dixon, James Cotton, and Chuck Leavell in 1990.
The Forrest Gump Connection
Photo credit: Rounder Records
The last album Gregg Allman ever recorded was Low Country Blues. Released on January 18, 2011, the Grammy-nominated album hit #1 on the Top Blues Albums charts.
In an interview with Garden & Gun, Allman revealed the significance behind the album’s cover. “We took the album cover photo right on that road near where Forrest Gump runs and runs in the movie,” he says, laughing. “This area means so much to me. I just wanted to give respect with these songs. I think Duane would have really liked it, too.”
The Haunting Similarities Between Duane and Berry Oakley’s Deaths
Photo credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
As mentioned, Duane Allman was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971. The band had just released its live album At Fillmore East months earlier.
With the addition of keyboard player Chuck Leavell, The Allman Brothers managed to carry on as a band. Horrifically, bassist Berry Oakley died in a motorcycle crash a year after Duane’s accident. Oakley’s wreck happened just blocks from Duane’s. The two men are buried next to each other in Macon, Georgia. This photo shows Duane, Gregg, and Berry in 1970.
Gregg Taught Duane To Play The Guitar
Photo credit: Jeffrey Mayer/Getty Images
Although Duane was the older of the Allman brothers, it was Gregg who first acquired and learned to play guitar (in 1960). Around the same time, Duane got his first motorcycle. “A Harley 165. Ring-ding-ding-ding, had a big buddy seat, would do 50 miles an hour – boy, I had a great time with it,” he told The Anthology.
“I still got that motorcycle jones on me, I can’t get away from that. Anyway, I tore up the bike and Gregg learned to play the guitar. I traded the wrecked parts for another guitar, and he taught me. Then it’s just apprenticeship, your regular old thing – you play for whoever will listen and build them chops, build them chops.”
Cameron Crowe Went On Tour With The Allman Brothers
Photo credit: Fin Costello/Redferns
The Allman Brothers band served as the inspiration for the 2000 film Almost Famous. In 1973, writer and filmmaker Cameron Crowe landed an interview with the band as his very first for Rolling Stone. He was just 16 at the time.
Crowe toured with the Allman Brothers for 10 days in 1973, collecting material for his article. He later turned the experience into Almost Famous. But the Rolling Stone interview and the movie almost didn’t happen, as we’ll see next.
Why Almost Famous Almost Didn’t Happen
Photo credit: Vinyl Films/Dreamwork Pictures
Cameron Crowe gave an interview to Birth.Movies.Death about his experience touring with the Allman Brothers. He revealed why the article and subsequent movie Almost Famous nearly didn’t happen. “On the eve of leaving the tour with a ton of interview tapes and research, Gregg Allman asked for my tapes back, believing that I was actually an undercover cop sent to spy on the band,” said Crowe.
“The band had been burned by a Rolling Stone reporter before, and he had become worried that this too would be a doomed endeavor. I was incredibly disillusioned, and expected to be banned from writing for Rolling Stone over the incident,” he continued. “Luckily, Gregg returned the tapes a couple days later, and blamed it on exhaustion and personal confusion.”
It’s good news for fans that Gregg returned the tapes, as they contained a treasure trove of information about his life. Read on for his insights into coping with great loss.
Gregg Speaks About Powering Through Pain
Photo credit: Richard E. Aaron/Redferns
In Cameron Crowe’s 1973 Rolling Stone article, Gregg Allman opened up about many personal issues including how he carried on despite losing his brother, and bandmate a year apart. “I’ve had guys come up to me and say, ‘Man, it just doesn’t seem like losing those two fine cats affected you people at all,’” he said.
“Why? Because I still have my wits about me? Because I can still play? Well, that’s the key right there. We’d all have turned into [expletive] vegetables if we hadn’t been able to get out there and play. That’s when the success was… [s]uccess was being able to keep your brain inside your head.”
The Allman Brothers Band Plays The Summer Jam At Watkins Glen
Photo credit: Steve Eichner/WireImag
In 1973 The Allman Brothers Band, along with The Band and The Grateful Dead, headlined the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. At the time was the largest music festival in history with 600,000 attending. For comparison, Woodstock attracted 400,000 fans. Of the experience, Gregg said, “I’d never been so scared in my life. We helicoptered into the place, and when we got near all you could see were people. It was a sight.”
The Allman Brothers’ drummer Butch Trucks shared his memories of the event with Forbes: “after we finished playing, we all came out for the jam and all I can say – I’ve heard the tapes – is it was an absolute disaster. I kept listening and listening, then thought about that night. It was a jam that couldn’t possibly have worked because of the mixture of drugs. The Band was all drunk as skunks, The Dead was all tripping and we were full of coke.”
Another Member Of The Trucks Family Joins The Allman Brothers Band
Photo credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images
Butch Trucks, drummer and founding member of The Allman Brother Band, has a nephew named Derek who is also a gifted musician. Derek Trucks is a singer, guitarist, and songwriter who founded the Derek Trucks Band in 1994.
In 1999, Derek became an honorary member of The Allman Brothers at 16 years old. He’d already been sitting in with them for their shows throughout his teens and played their final show in 2014, alongside his uncle. The music went on for four hours that night, with three encores. This photo shows Derek Trucks, Gregg Allman, and Warren Haynes.
Derek Trucks Remembers Gregg
Photo credit: Rick Diamond/GABB14/Getty Images for Blackbird Production
In 2017 Derek Trucks suffered the unthinkable, losing his uncle and Gregg Allman within months of each other. After Allman’s death, Trucks sat down with Rolling Stone and had this to say about the man he’d known most of his life:
“I’ve heard all these tributes to Gregg, and people singing ‘Midnight Rider’ and some of these other tunes, but every time I hear it, I’m like, ‘Yep, next!’ I appreciate the sentiment, but you just can’t top that… they really don’t make that version of human beings very often any more.” Above are Trucks and Allman in Atlanta in 2014.
Gregg Allman Met With The Future President Jimmy Carter And Attended His Inauguration
Photo credit: Ron Galella/WireImage
In 1974, then-Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter invited Gregg Allman to his home. In an interview with The Bitter Southerner, Allman shared these details of the meeting: “Jimmy Carter threw a party for Bob Dylan one night at the governor’s mansion.”
He continued, “I got there late, right as the last guests were going home. I had my limo driver stop at the gate, and the guard told us to come on. Carter wanted to see me. We drove on up to the front porch, and Carter was standing there on the steps, wearing old Levi’s, a T-shirt, and no shoes. We went inside and sat down on the floor. We talked for a long time…. He told me he was going to be president, and I started laughing. But he was serious, and he asked me to help him raise some money.”
Above are Allman and Cher, arriving at the White House in Washington, D.C. for Carter’s inauguration.